Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-Race

The title should not (or at least not alone) be taken as evidence that I have finally lost my few remaining marbles or use of the spell-checker.  Of course, it refers to the Bard of Ayrshire and the 252nd anniversary of his birth.

All over the land, people will be tucking into haggis, neaps and tatties – though not in the US, where haggis is illegal (though widely smuggled from Canada, I believe) and so folk will be stuck with the rather more boring neaps and tatties combo.

I was first introduced to Robert Burns’ ouevre as part of my English Literature O level, where I was made to study Tam O’Shanter, as I recall.  I must admit, nearly 30 years later, that I cannot remember what skills or knowledge I was supposed to acquire as a result of this study – but they clearly didn’t stick.  I do remember resenting the requirement, feeling that I was being made to study Scottish literature – my O level also included a number of Scottish ballads (including Sir Patrick Spens, which did have some appeal and harks back to a day when the Kingdom of Fife came equipped with an actual King) and even my set Shakespeare play was the Scottish one (ha, I laugh in the face of superstition and tweak the tales of old wives, I studied MACBETH – there I’ve “said” it).  I now realise that the literature was in the English language, rather than written by English nationals – so perhaps I have acquired some wisdom over time.  (It’s also good to get that off my chest after all these years).

In subsequent years, I have come to appreciate Mr Burns work (both Rabbie and Monty, who I view as a role model) – it can be especially fine spoken aloud in a cod Scots accent (or probably in a real one, but I lack that facility).

This same EngLit O Level introduced me to Peter Grimes, the hideous poem by George Crabbe.  So awful was this experience that it took nearly twenty years before I was willing to see Benjamin Britten’s quite stunning opera of the same name.

On the plus side, I loved Lord Macaulay’s Keeping of the Bridge (and may prepare its recitation as a party piece for my declining years) and really enjoyed Macbeth (if enjoyed is a word I should use to describe regicide followed by mass murder).   In line with previous practise, I should at this stage boast about my final grade – let me just say that it is the one most commonly associated with ‘orses.

Slàinte mhòr agad!


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